President Biden is bouncing back — but the question is how high his fortunes can rise and how much they can help his party in the midterms.
The latest evidence of Biden’s improved political standing came in an NBC News poll released Sunday, which showed the president’s approval rating ticking up to 45 percent, its highest level since last October.
The poll also showed a dead-even race for Congress, with 46 percent of voters saying they would prefer Democrats to be in control on Capitol Hill and an equal share saying they favored the GOP.
The NBC poll came on the heels of a New York Times-Siena College survey that showed Biden at a more modest 42 percent approval but Democrats holding a 2-point edge in the battle for Congress.
There was good news for Biden in the Times poll, particularly in the sharp increase among Democrats and independents backing his performance. Between July and September, the share of Democrats approving of Biden’s record in office grew by 13 points, to 83 percent. Among independents, it went up 14 points, albeit to a distinctly unspectacular 39 percent.
Similar findings have emerged across a number of polls. Biden’s approval rating in the RealClearPolitics polling average now stands just above 42 percent, roughly 5 points higher than it was in late July.
The rebound is testament to Biden’s political resilience — and to the tendency of critics on both right and left to underestimate him.
Biden’s allies often note how his chances of winning the Democratic nomination in 2020 were dismissed early by some progressives and media pundits. They also recall how confident former President Trump was of defeating Biden in the general election.
Instead, Biden won the Democratic nomination easily and defeated Trump by more than 7 million votes.
But Biden’s bounce-back isn’t making Democrats pop any champagne corks just yet.
The president’s ratings are far from stellar even after having recovered from their lowest points.
His party’s chances of holding on to the Senate have improved, but Republicans are still favored to take the House. A GOP that controls even one chamber of Congress will be able to hamstring Biden on most issues for the remainder of his first term.
Still, Democrats are at least looking with far less foreboding toward midterms that they once thought could be catastrophic.
Strategists in Biden’s party point with striking unanimity to several factors that have shifted the midterm dynamics.
The Supreme Court handed liberals a stinging, substantive defeat when it struck down the constitutional right to abortion in late June. But the conservative justices also look to have done Democrats a political favor.
Polls consistently show around 60 percent of the public believing the court did the wrong thing in overturning the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.
Meanwhile, Biden has racked up a number of legislative wins. The biggest was the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes significant action on climate change and prescription drug pricing, among other things.
But the president has also successfully pushed one bill to expand health care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits and another boosting the U.S. semiconductor industry.
Biden has also proposed cancellation of up to $20,000 in student loan debt for some borrowers.
Alongside Biden’s gains, Trump has given him an unintentional helping hand.
Trump has returned to center stage in recent months, primarily for negative reasons. Example A is the FBI’s search of his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who served as chief strategist of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential bid, said that Trump’s renewed prominence “gives a dramatic relief to Biden.”
The former president “is a powerful motivator on both sides of the aisle,” Devine said.
“I know he refused to accept that he lost the last election by 7 million votes, but he did. He got a lot of people out to vote against him.”
At the same time, Devine added, “I think the abortion issue will get more people out to vote Democratic than any other single issue.”
Other Democrats see the recent polling gains mainly as signs that once-dissatisfied Democratic voters are “coming home” as the midterm choice looms larger.
“At the nadir of his polling numbers, you saw even among partisan Democrats that his favorability ratings were much lower than you would expect,” Texas-based Democratic strategist Keir Murray said of Biden.
“Those have improved considerably in the past few months,” Murray added, citing legislative achievements and an “ebbing” of gas prices as among the most important factors.
“There has been some improvement among independent voters, but not as much,” Murray cautioned.
Republicans contend that Biden’s rise in the polls is likely to peter out soon.
“I think a lot of it is Democrats coming home,” said Matt Gorman, a former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Democratic Party, Gorman argued, is “clearly running a turnout strategy and are seeming to ignore the persuadable voters. The student loans thing, for example, showed they just want to juice their base as much as possible.”
For now, Democrats will take the gains where they can find them.
They just hope there is time to advance further before voters go to the polls in November.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.